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21 October 2007


Chris Becker

I don't get the impression this NY Times writer has actually listened to most of the bands who are named in the article. This read more like a press release for mostly white, mostly young early 20's mostly male mostly middle to upper class New York City based rock bands than any sort of serious cultural observation. Sasha's article (for me) is a lot more honest and provocative even with all of its flaws. It's more human.

And MIA doesn't work out of Brooklyn. She's lives in England.


Well, Chris, the question asked by Sasha's article mostly amounts to "Why don't the 'mostly white, mostly young early 20's mostly male mostly middle to upper class New York City-based rock bands' that have always dominated indie rock engage in more 'musical miscegenation'?" The point is that some of them do -- enough of them that non-US influences in indie rock have been trendy for a while now. And that there's a lot more to this question than just white vs. black.


PS Everyone should read Carl Wilson's response to SF-J in Slate.

Chris Becker

"And that there's a lot more to this question than just white vs. black."

Right. And isn't Sasha acknowledging this? Especially in his post-New Yorker editorials and blogs?

And if he is just leaning more toward the negative than the positive...what's so bad about that? Especially when so many music writers reporting on "indie" rock or "new music" for that matter (until now) have refused to discuss issues of race and creativity in the 21st century?

Of course as an artist, I do not compose, perform or collaborate out of some politically correct agenda. I go where the muse takes me. I try to honestly represent my obsessions in the form of sound. And I know many indie artists - not to mention big band leaders (like yourself) do the same. We want to love what we play and hope our audiences do the same.

But Sasha's article touched a nerve and reminded me of conversations I've had with friends about the indie music world and some latent racism that does exist. I was glad to see someone try to take this issue on.


PS I do think my 'mostly' list distracted from my actual feelings about the Times piece and how it relates to Sasha's writing.



You seem to feel I'm picking on SF-J and I'm not. Like I said, I'm glad he at least broached these issues and I'm glad for the discussion it's engendered. Some of his points are dead-on. But the piece also has its problems.

One of them is that SF-J is a bit behind the ball -- indie rock really is trending less provincial and insular, as a quick listen to the artists named in the NYT article will show. Two, Carl is right about all of this stuff:

The article also tends troublingly to reduce "black music" to rhythm and sexuality, and to elide the differences between, say, funk, soul, disco, folk-blues, Caribbean, and African influences in white rock. While he justifiably frames the issue as an American one, at least half of Frere-Jones' lauded precedents are British, a context in which appropriating black American music has vastly different connotations. His lead example, the Arcade Fire, is likewise un-American, hailing from Montreal (one of its leaders, Régine Chassagne, has family roots in Haiti). The piece also switches at its convenience between mainstream rock history and the "underground" genealogy of indie, while never balancing the scales by addressing current hit-making rockers like Fall Out Boy or the White Stripes, who remain heavier on groove.
Chris Becker

Nope - I don't think you're picking on Sasha (or me). You and I are more or less on the same page. But I am expressing a little more empathy toward Sasha's perception. And I sort of feel like I'm on the defensive out here as a result - but that's my problem.

I did read Carl's piece. But did you read the Robert Plant and Allison Krauss article? That is just as provocative... particularly Plant's comments about his change of attitude toward early American music.

I told Sasha via email that some of this might have to do with a disconnect that a lot of young people have with the history and genesis of early rock and roll and rockabilly. History isn't rewritten these days so much as erased. Some of the bands Sasha is taking to task really may have stopped their investigation of music at REM. But if you go back - way back - you discover that the history of rock and roll (which in turn is really the history of slavery in the U.S.) is a profound one.

Now I'm generalizing, of course...but the music of a lot of the bands Sasha takes to task - to my ears - reflects this lack of depth. Sasha is getting himself into trouble for trying to quantify the musical components of what is African. I understand too that the lack of depth I'm hearing in these bands doesn't necessarily mean that the musicians are racist.

But come on...Fall Out Boy grooves? They can barely play. However, I love Jack White and am happy he is such a strong player in the current world of rock music.

Forbes Graham

Indie rock pretty much sucks and is a waste of air..

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